St. Mary’s Church Frampton Boston Sinfonia Concert review

(September 24, 2011)

Boston Sinfonia gave what is probably their best performance to date when they played in St. Mary’s Church, Frampton, last Saturday evening. The orchestra seems to have acquired the strength in every section that provides the confidence to take on taxing works. The beautifully played horn solo that begins Weber’s overture to his opera “Oberon” set the standard for the whole evening. In the second half we heard Dvorak’s Eight Symphony, a favourite of mine, splendid orchestration, wonderful melodies and the expectation of that wildly blaring brass that accents the climaxes in the last movement. I was not disappointed! The lower strings also impressed and there was fine oboe and other woodwind. 

Perhaps the most interesting part of this concert followed the overture – two sections of Berlioz’ “Romeo and Juliet, a Dramatic Symphony”. This was special – I doubt the work has been heard live in Boston before. . A pioneer, often fighting an uphill battle in his time, Berlioz found inspiration from hearing Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, from his muse Harriet Smithson, with whom he became obsessed after seeing her as Ophelia and as Juliet on the Paris stage and also with the plays themselves, and he sought to distil all into a massive work, with three soloists, choruses and a hundred instrumentalists. It had its first performances, thoroughly prepared under Berlioz’ baton, in late 1839, possibly the time when he and Harriet were happiest together as man and wife.

Sinfonia gave us two of Berlioz’ entirely instrumental sections - the Capulet’s Ball and the Balcony Scene. In the Balcony Scene we have some of the most powerful and intense love music imaginable: To express in purely instrumental terms, without the singers the scene, persona, and story was something never accomplished before. It is a long piece and Nigel Morley conducting, judged the long slow build up skilfully – it could so easily become tedious - and Sinfonia, led by Ann Dales, responded well. Berlioz sets up conversations between very different timbres within the orchestra, surely very difficult to balance well. With sonorous sustained cello and quivering pulsating strings with winds, a sense of real collaboration among these musicians impressed.

The orchestra has reached a new level.


Brenda Lane.

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